Election results 2017: Indians give thumbs up to PM Modi's note ban decision, nationalism

S V Krishnamachari
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If elections to the five states can be described as a cricket series, Prime Minister Narendra Modi can easily be adjudged the 'man of the match,' going by the results and trends, especially in Uttar Pradesh. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on way to win a record majority in UP and do equally well in Uttarakhand, apart from notching modest success in Manipur.

PM Modi was the most visible face and the biggest campaigner (player) fielded by Team BJP and has delivered, once again, riding on a landmark decision announced last November, making other issues irrelevant.

When Modi announced on November 8 that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes won't be valid from midnight that day, it came as a surprise to many and elated his rivals.

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The visuals that played out in the media — long queues at ATMs, vociferous protests by the Opposition, traders and small businessmen whining about dwindling customers — were seen as electoral disasters in the waiting by his rivals in partly-concealed glee.

Analysts of all hues contributed to the doomsday predictions, projecting a sharp fall in economic activity, triggering massive layoffs and weak demand.

PM Modi remained unfazed, selling the decision to ~1.25 billion Indians as a strong step against black money, corruption and counterfeit money that funds terror operations against the country that will pay off in the long run.

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"So, in this fight against corruption, black money, fake notes and terrorism, in this movement for purifying our country, will our people not put up with difficulties for some days? I have full confidence that every citizen will stand up and participate in this 'mahayagna'....there may be temporary hardships to be faced by honest citizens," PM Modi had said in his November 8 address to the nation.

"Experience tells us that ordinary citizens are always ready to make sacrifices and face difficulties for the benefit of the nation," he added.

A string of successes in municipal body elections, as latest as in Maharashtra, where BJP won eight of the 10 municipal bodies, including putting an impressive show in Mumbai, were not enough for naysayers who still preferred to remain delusional about BJP's possible defeat in UP and other states.

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They were confident that their campaign against the note ban decision and the resultant hardships it caused to many people would seem them through, apart from raising the secularism vs communalism argument.

PM Modi converted it into a debate wherein the opposition was seen as siding with the corrupt, while he was the one to take on people with ill-gotten money.

His gamble paid off and the Opposition's excessive reliance on the flip side of demonetisation backfired. When counting began on Saturday and the trends started trickling in, Congress confessed that it overplayed the issue and lost.

"We were seen standing with the rich and the corrupt. That was not our intention," Ashwani Kumar, a Congress Party member and former minister in the erstwhile UPA government, said during a discussion on a news channel.

Kumar's fellow party member and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram called it the "biggest scam of the year" in December.

But voters have given a thumbs down to such naysayers, if the electoral results in favour of the BJP are any indication. By Saturday afternoon, BJP had won 99 seats and was leading in 220, while its rival, the Samajwadi Party-Congress coalition was trailing at 12 wins and 44 leads.

As for the economy, it is slowly picking up after the initial shock in November and December.

Passenger car sales rose 4.9 percent in February and there was a spike (up 2.7 percent) in factory output in January. Manufacturing and services also bounced back  in February. The Indian rupee is stable and stock markets have been on an upswing, led by surge in foreign institutional investors lapping up both debt and equities.

Surgical strike on terror camps and the nationalism card

Equally potent was the way PM Modi and his party projected the surgical strike on terror camps along the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir last September. While the opposition raised doubts about its efficacy, even questioning its authenticity in the initial days, Pm Modi smartly sold as his resolve to take on terror originating from Pakistan, and in the process, flaunting his nationalistic credentials.

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